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You’ll soon need a reservation to visit Central Oregon’s Lava River Cave

Visitors descend into Lava River Cave, a mile-long lava tube south of Bend, Ore.
U.S. Forest Service
Visitors descend into Lava River Cave, a mile-long lava tube south of Bend, Ore.

Your party will now be spelunked.

Starting Aug. 1, visitors to Lava River Cave will need to reserve a parking space before exploring the mile-long lava tube south of Bend. The cave is one of the most popular in Oregon, receiving around 70,000 visitors each year.

The crush of visitors has often led to long lines of cars backed up on the roadway waiting to get in. Deschutes National Forest public affairs officer Jean Nelson-Dean said people would sometimes wait an hour or more just to get into the small parking lot at the cave, creating safety hazards on the nearby road.

“We’re hoping that this timed reservation system will make it so people don’t have to sit there and wait,” Nelson-Dean said. “It makes it safer both for people on the road … and it’s safer for our employees as well.”

Lava River Cave is the latest in a growing list of natural spaces in Oregon to require permits or reservations.

Motorists now need to purchase a permit to access Multnomah Falls and the entire “waterfall corridor” of the Historic Columbia River Highway.

An increase in people attempting to summit Oregon’s tallest peak, Mount Hood, prompted the Forest Service to propose a $20 per person, per climb permit. That program could start next year, according to the Salem Statesman Journal.

To ease overcrowding, the Forest Service also launched a permit program last year limiting entry to some of the most popular trails in Central Oregon’s Mount Jefferson, Mount Washington and Three Sisters wilderness areas, including South Sister and Green Lakes near Bend.

Visitors to Lava River Cave can choose from 14 available time slots from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. during the cave’s open season. Reservations allow access to the cave for 90 minutes, which is about the time it takes to travel the lava tube’s length.

Half of the reservations will be available up to 30 days in advance of your trip, and the other half will be available 24 hours in advance for more spontaneous excursions.

Reservations made through Recreation.gov cost $2. Parking at Lava River Cave will require a valid recreation pass or an additional $5 per vehicle. Visitors without a reservation will not be able to access the cave.

Copyright 2022 Oregon Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Bradley W. Parks